The Woman King Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
This historical epic is entertaining! A blend of period drama & blockbuster like we haven't seen for a while, though its accuracy should be taken with a grain of salt.
Genre: Action / Drama / Historical / War
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, John Boyega, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Jayme Lawson, Masali Baduza & Jimmy Odukoya.
Run Time: 135 min.
US Release: 16 September 2022
UK Release: 07 October 2022
German Release: 06 October 2022
It is a long time since we obtained a historic epos of this calibre in cinemas. The last one I remember might be Troy, directed by the late Wolfgang Petersen. Thus, I was naturally intrigued after seeing the trailers, counting the days until October. Having finally watched it in theatres, I left the screening room happily entertained, yet also with a slightly bitter taste left in my mouth, due to the crass historical misrepresentation. While I don’t expect Hollywood to stick to the facts, it is something completely different to represent active aggressors and beneficiaries in slavery, as heroes of a nation.
Inspired by true events, this epic follows the exceptional account of the all-female African warriors Agojie, who protected the Kingdom of Dahomey in the early 1800s, with skill and brutality unlike anything ever seen before. Set against a neighbouring enemy, as well as the growing threat of European slave traders, the Ahojie, led by their general Nanisca, need to fight to stand their ground.
Even if beautifully rendered, with an intriguing premise, it is important to know that Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic is merely based on true accounts. Factually, a lot of the narrative is a fictionalised version of historic events, especially when it comes to its heroic moments in war plus the immoralities of the slave trade. While it is true that the Dahomeyian King dabbled in palm oil production to trade with the Europeans, it proved to be less lucrative than slavery. Ghezo soon resumed his participation in the trade of slaves. That said, the brutality of war as well as the cry for freedom from the Oyo oppressors is rooted in truth.
I admire the liberty of artistic freedom to portray historical events in a loser form, though I do wish that some of the darker aspects of Dahomey's history would have been displayed on screen as well. The pacing is also a little off, especially during the middle and last act. The introduction of romance did somewhat derail the narrative, with unneeded prolonged sequences between specific characters. In the end, however, the story is entertaining, finding a good balance between blockbuster and period drama.
Structurally, the plot feels like a blend of Braveheart with 1492: Conquest of Paradise, grand epics that are long forgotten in cinema. What captures most, is the story-setting of an underrepresented region in the world. It would be nice to see more movies, playing in the African continent that are historically more accurate.
The dialogues are dynamic, containing a lot of emotion that mostly focuses on the spectrum of pain. Viewers can hear a sense of sisterhood when characters talk to each other. Sadly, conversations between characters are spoken in a universal African accent, used in many Hollywood flicks.
Viola Davis truly transformed into Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, giving the best performance of her career. She not only brings the physicality to play the persona but also sells her stunt choreography for the battle parts. Nanisca is a wholly fictional character, though her name was inspired by a historical figure of the Agojie. She has a traumatising past, from which she summons the strength to fight and protect her kingdom. Davis sells that pain, with a glaring face, filled with bottled-up fiery anger.
South African actress Thuso Mbedu plays Nawi, a young recruit of the Agojie. Nawi was given away by her father, as she is rebellious, plus reluctant to take a husband. Honestly, I found her character to be somewhat of a nuisance during the first two-thirds of the runtime. Claiming to want to become a warrior, as she will not bow to any men. Still, she is unwilling to follow orders, plays pranks and questions the abstinence to love. It is during the last act that she starts growing as a character.
John Boyega did a good job given his limited screen time, however, his persona, rendered after the real-life figure King Ghezo, was the furthest away from historical correctness.
The camera work is among the movie’s strongest attributes. Beautiful scenic shots of the South African surroundings are used to mimic West Africa of the 1800s, while long-uncut segments capture full-length battles or action sequences. The action in general is magnificently choreographed, giving the actresses grace among fights. The lighting is adequate, if not too dark at times, although the picture's colour schematic is most impressive.
The effects look mostly practical, with fine visuals and CG effects polishing up the scenery. Stage design, as well as costume and make-up, look realistic, meaning that a good amount of research went into creating a historically accurate setting. The Agojie uniforms look slightly modified, probably due to mobility reasons, but still original enough.
The music, composed by Terence Blanchard, is powerfully moving, yet can also sound ominously threatening. It has a slight-sounding resemblance to The Lion King.
Verdict: This motion feature makes it clear in its trailers, as well as at the beginning of the film, that it is solely based on historical events, meaning that it isn’t historically accurate, just like Gladiator or Braveheart, and it gets straight to the action from the beginning onwards. While the screenplay is good, it suffers from inconsistencies plus pacing issues during the second half. The romance, forcefully shoved into the narrative at the end of the second act, is unearned. The dialogues are mesmerising, even if using a universal accent. Viola Davis gives the performance of a lifetime, while John-Boyega gave a good rendition of King Ghezo. The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the amazing battle choreography. The music suits the setting, with rhythmic African sounds. The Woman King is definitely worth a trip to the theatres! Among some issues, it deserves a 7.5 out of 10.
Have you seen The Woman King yet? What did you think of it? Thank you for reading & please subscribe if you like what you read.